Monday, 23 November 2015
The Kinks "Phobia" (1993)
Opening/Wall Of Fire/Drift Away/Still Searching/Phobia/Only A Dream/Don't/Babies/Over The Edge/Surviving/It's Alright (Don't Think About It)/The Informer/Hatred (A Duet)/Somebody Stole My Car/Close To The Wire/Scattered
"Do you feel the fear when you meet an old friend and the end is near?" or "Pass on the panic to the population - it's all over now!" or "Under a technicolour Ray it all disappears on a bright sunny day"
Most bands celebrate their 30th anniversary with a party, a singalong album of 'greatest hits live' or a career spanning retrospective (even if, for the purposes of this review, it's a 30th anniversary of the band playing together as The Ravens - not the first time they used the name The Kinks). A nice pat on the back for a job well done, it's a chance to bury the hatchet and celebrate the fact that against all the trend of bands splitting through musical differences you stayed together and did your best. Most albums by the few bands who last this long are gloriously self-indulgent, warm-hearted fan-hugs that are the sort of things bands would never be allowed to get away with at the start of their careers (think The Rolling Stones' 'Voodoo Lounge', which is effectively a 'greatest hits' recycled with 1990s backing, The Monkees' 'JustUs' - which sounds like it was taped at a party when everyone's drunk - or The Beach Boys' so-full-of-song-quotes-it-hurts 'Summer In Paradise', an album that might have been better if everybody had been). Fans and critics alike anticipated an album full of sunny afternoons and waterloo sun-settings over some well respected old men and hip grannies named Lola.
The Kinks, though, are not like everybody else and their anniversary album ended up more like an hour of 'Dead End Street'. The album they celebrate their longevity with is 'Phobia'. And while 'Phobia' is many things (and has been called many of them down the years) it is most certainly not a 'party' album. It's the darkest, bleakest, most depressing album, even after a run of some of the darkest, bleakest and most depressing albums in anyone's catalogue. It's an album aptly named, scared of the future in a world that's no longer merely corrupt and bonkers but evil and mad, run by tyrants who are going to kill us all in a 'wall of fire', where petty crime is an inevitable part of life, where love and humanity are things of the past and where the world we're leaving for our children is one they'll never live to enjoy into old age before someone presses the red button of annihilation - and where it would be a mercy killing if they never got that far or even out the womb anyway (actually the working title was simply 'Don't', which sums up this album's sense of despair even better). Many Kinks albums are afraid of their own shadow, sometimes for comic effect (the hilarious yet still oh so serious 'State Of Confusion'), sometimes out of genuine weary despair (the damning 'Working In The Factory'). But 'Phobia' is the one that really has a 'phobia' about life, that sees shadows on every corner and knows that something nasty is coming without a clue what to do about any of it, with the only moments of the old Kinks beauty and hope coming either in passing fancies in escalating elevators or memories of the old days (though even the 1960s get a bashing if you're lucky enough to own the pressings with 'Did Ya?' as a scathing bonus track, which in typical Kinks style undercuts the 1990s Britpop nostalgia for the decade a year before it's actually in fashion). To quote from one of the lyrics, there's a 'smell of fear' on even the happiest songs on this album and lingers long after the dangers have been averted or escaped. Ray once described the record at length for Observer magazine as 'a man on top of a skyscraper that's on fire. He's afraid of heights and the only way to escape is across a tightrope across to another building' - a collection of phobias jangling against each other, raising impossible choices each as frightening as the last. It's also, at various points, the sound of a man saved from certain death who doesn't want to live, an IRA bomber meeting up with his childhood pal to betray him, a baby whose first response on seeing the world is to try and get back in his mother's womb and the owner of a stolen car he's still paying instalments for. Worryingly, 'Phobia' is an album that with every passing year sounds less like a comically frightened record to be laughed at - as it roundly was by the few people who bothered to review this lowest selling of all original Kinks albums the first time round - than a prescient warning about where society was heading across the next twenty-two years (and counting).
The only thing 'Phobia' shares with our other list of celebratory albums is a sense of 'survival', one of the themes that crops up often across the album. 'Wall Of Fire' has the band 'unified, so no one could destroy us' even if the band are 'looking into the setting sun'. 'Babies' and 'Don't are literally about birth and death (though typically Kinks, they appear the 'wrong way round' at the heart of this album), but more specifically about how we can't choose when we're born but might have some say over when we die. Dave's 'It's Alright' juggles a sarcastic 'if you don't stop to think about it' alongside a list of the world's problems and the hope that one day mankind will find a future evolved species who can take us out of our dark shadows of greed and war ('They're better be life on Mars!'), while the chorus line of 'Close To The Wire' features a pained cry of 'gotta survive!' after a long list of deception and corruption that means we might not. 'Phobia' is an album that knows that survival comes at a cost and one that might be about to get too high to pay (the track 'Over The Edge', for example, makes madness the only sane way out of an insane world and 'Surviving' ends in a two minute guttural soul-scream of horror that's very un-like the usual Ray Davies and anything but the usual passive idea of surviving being what happens to you because you haven't done anything interesting enough to kill you).
Ironically, this theme and the track 'Surviving' both appear on the last album of new material The Kinks ever made (at least at the time of writing - come on guys, prove me wrong!) Yes, after 23 albums of brotherly love-hate at its wildest extremes, GBH with hi-hat cymbals and more lost band members down the years than the Sugababes, this is where the Kinks finally bid goodnight and say thank you for the days. Ironically, this is about the one Kinks albums since at least 'Preservation Two' that didn't feel as if it might be the last Kinks album while the band were making it. The Kinks were actually quite positive about this one, the Davies brothers putting aside their usual differences a bit more than usual (Dave and Ray even hare lead vocals on two tracks for the first time since 'Milk Cow Blues' 1965! Of course one of these is titled 'Hatred - A Duet'...) sensing that this project could be 'the one' to restore their reputation and sales figures. The band had after all just signed with their fifth and last record label Columbia, who appeared to be fully behind the album and the pair were swayed by the usual promises of a big promotion and heavy sales that never quite happened. Even more than their years on the labels RCA, Arista and MCA/London it was a troubled partnership that fizzled out quickly despite the fact that The Kinks had put even more effort into this album than usual. Unsure of their material and keen to make an album to rank alongside their best competitors, they recorded and re-recorded across three busy years of 1990-1992 and by the time they were finished had a sixteen track album - by far the longest of their careers (a handful of fans have found 'Phobia' easier to take as two separate eight-track records, ending with 'Babies' and starting afresh with 'Over The Edge' - the general consensus is that the second record 'wins'). Ray and Dave both did far more promotion for the record than any since 1977's 'Sleepwalker', appearing on every TV and radio programme that would have them (there's a particularly fine return to the BBC studios for a radio sessions that makes a fine end to the even more mammoth 'At The BBC' box set) and - an even bigger shock - said some nice things about each other in the press (Ray even said that he 'quite liked' Dave's song 'It's Alright' - those of you who've read these album reviews in order of release will know what a shocking twist that is!)
It was to their alarm and shock, then, that 'Phobia' sank without a trace and was the first Kinks album to completely miss the top 200 chart in Britain(while peaking at a miserable #166 in the US). Some put the final sales figures at a measly 5000 copies, which is below what an unknown debut artist on a minor label would have expected to sell at the time (three of those copies have passed through my hands at one time or another by the way - so a hundredth of those sales are mine!) The Kinks were horrified, at both the poor financial return and the fact that they'd been ignored in their 29th year as a recording act - other Kinks albums had been be-littled, criticised or dismissed but none had ever disappeared quite so quickly from view. It didn't help that Columbia president Don Ideon, a year ago the band's biggest fan, was suddenly talking about wanting to 'get rid of all the dinosaur rock acts' in a 1993 interview seemingly aimed at the band (a mid-album meeting, in January 1992, which includes stipulations for music videos and even more advance press reportedly also went very badly, with Ray almost prepared to jump ship and try another label; Ray responded with a sarcastic re-write of 'Hey Joe' live on stage at the first gig after the interview, the words replaced to 'Hey Donnie' - a bootlegger's favourite, complete with the ending where nobody can remembers who wrote the original and assume 'it must be Paul McCartney - he wrote everything else'!) After a final tour in 1994 (captured on the very final Kinks album 'To The Bone' - err twice, due to Ray changing his mind about the track listing) both Ray and Dave released their tell-all autobiographies with particularly damning passages about the other (though 'Confuse all' would also be a fitting description for the elder brother's 'unauthorised autobiography' 'X-Ray'). Unbelievably neither brother knew the other had even started a book yet both appeared with different publishers a month apart - another sign of how closely the brother's lives mirror each other (as well as summing up their differences: Dave's book is one of the great rock and roll biographies and feels very much like his direct 'voice' that's been nowhere near a ghost-writer; Ray writes his in the third person, through a character and is a confusing muddle of the real and vividly imaginative). Both brothers went out on their own separate solo tours to promote their books - and somehow never quite made it back to working together again.
'Phobia' is a striking album before you even play it, one whose front cover features Ray clutching a newspaper while Dave poses behind dark glasses in a 'no Paparazzi' style block to the camera while below them a city burns full of animals like deers and bears on pyres. It's a very un-Kinks image: their more recent album covers have been bright and bold, one simple design over a block of colour from dancing coats to a big pair of lips. 'Phobia', though feels different, like one of those Van Eyck paintings specialists analyse in detail looking for clues. The headline has always intrigued me (is it a Kinky klue?) although the most that I can read is '[something] Wells' Fail Bail Scramble'. A bit of digging has led me to a 1993 story about new legislation to make taxpayer-sponsored bailouts of banks more possible, even if the bankers prove to be the ones at fault (in Dave's words 'The bankers need investment - so who are we?!') Who says the Davies brothers aren't fortune-tellers?! If I know my Kinks, the rest of the cover looks like the media trying to distract us from the 'real' story with a bit of empty celebrity rockstar posing (how nice - and typical - of Ray to rope in his brother there!) while the 'real' world story plays out under our noses. We are the 'animals' who no longer to the powers that be at the top of the food chain and we're also the ones who 'really' get the blame when the new rules bite: turning to car-crime, to suicide, to IRA bomb plots, to a list of phobias that now run longer than our hopes, wishes and dreams. No wonder even the babies of 1993 take one look at the world and try to head back to their mother's wombs - this is a record full of pained cries of 'Where Have All The Good Times Gone?' punctuated only by some small token of warmth.
What's odd is that this album comes straight after (well, a four year gap - long by Kinks standards) easily the sunniest, happiest Kinks album since the early years, 1989's 'UK Jive'. Despite the title, that set was also the Kinks' most 'European' (rather than British or American) album, possibly the world's first album written in celebration of the European Union and whose only real sting is reserved for the soon-to-be-toppled Margaret Thatcher fighting an isolationist policy that was clearly proved to be 'wrong'. But the early 1990s didn't play out as many people, including The Kinks, expected: this was the time when our last recession began to cut the hardest, when yuppies lost their money in financial crashes (the character in 'Don't' is meant to be a yuppie) and when homelessness reached then-peak levels in the UK (they sneakily don't seem to bother totting up the statistics anymore, but I'm willing to bet it's more post the 2008 credit crunch). Though Britpop's upbeat sunshine and Blair's crooked smile both arrived within a year to at least look as if the world was going through a happier time, back in 1993 'Phobia' was one of the few albums by a major artist brave enough to hit a raw nerve that the 20th century was about to go out on a low.
It's also a strange fact that The Kinks, who spent so many years trying to escape the mundanity of the real world and did their best to ignore the fashions of the music world spent so long reflecting both. 'You Really Got Me' hit the hopeful newly sexually crazed mood of 1964 to a tee and 'Lola' was perfect for the flirty early 70s, while the prog rock suites of the 1970s and the riff-filled arena rock of the 1980s summed up their periods pretty well too - even if none of these examples quite sounded like anything else anyone was making. 'Phobia', the only Kinks studio albums of the 1990s, sums up the musical feel quite well. Not because any other band was making an album like 'Phobia' - quite the opposite in fact - but it's at once with the slightly deflated sense of frustration that was running through grunge and can be heard best on both the last Stone Roses and first Ocean Colour Scene albums. Time and songs seem to be running slow, the promise of a mini-explosion of music and technicolour so promised by a late 1980s revival is already over and everyone sounds annoyed, but in the apathetic rather than the aggressive sense. 'Phobia' has been called The Kinks' angriest album, but that's not quite true (1982's 'Give The People What They Want' probably wins on that front): it's more a sort of passive-aggressive futility: 'yeah right things have gone wrong again' sighs this album for the umpteempth time, 'it always does. And I told you so - thirty years ago in some cases!'
Fans who've already coped with the grumps of 'Word Of Mouth' and the bitter sarcasm of 'Think Visual' may already be backing away now, but where 'Phobia' wins out over both is that there are little glimmers of light and love and hope thrown into the mix, reminders that life hasn't always been this bad. Ray admitted later her wrote 'Only A Dream' at the last minute to give the album 'some humanity'; actual 'Phobia' is an album that already has a lot of humanity for the 'ordinary people' - what he does in this song is bring a bit of light into the darkness. Ray's narrator's day is lifted by nothing more than the secret smile of a girl who gets into an elevator with him and who probably never have a second thought after she left to go to her floor - for Ray though it's a revelation that life is a beautiful place where great things can happen, the dark clouds overheard passing to make way for a rainbow in the time it takes the lift to make his floor (other Kinks songs would have left things there - but 'Phobia' still twists the knife in with a coda where the next day she doesn't even notice he exists). 'Still Searching' is the return of the 'Tramp' character from 'Preservation' - one Ray had long ago admitted was his alter ego - still homeless, still restless, still unloved but still dreaming. 'Don't' is ambiguous about whether the yuppie jumper goes ahead an jumps or hears the crowd's pleas and walks down, but the people in the square who come together to try and save his life all learn something - how precious life is and why, despite the darkness, survival at least has the chance for better times ahead. 'Drift Away' repeats the refrain of 'Loony Balloon' from 'UK Jive' (the Kinks song closest to the feel of this album), retreating to the better world in Ray Davies' head like so many former Kinks songs - only this time the world can't be shut out entirely, jumping back and forth between the two at dizzying speeds as if Ray has his fingers in his ears while watching the news, going 'la la la I'm not listening!!!' The narrator of 'Surviving' may resent the fact that he's still here at all and is 'somewhat afraid' of what's to come, but recognises that surviving this long has given him the chance to be a 'better man', with a Hey Jude style coda seemingly offering redemption. 'Scattered' - the earliest and much re-written song which rounds off the album - even finds comfort in death, juxtaposing a 'what does it matter?' shoulder shrug with the realisation that the narrator has picked himself and his loved ones up many many times before. 'Phobia' is a frightened, wounded, paranoid animal of a record, but it's one that will still lick your face and tell you things are going to be alright (if you don't think about it), like all great Kinks albums.
In fact 'Phobia' is in many ways the best summary yet of the old Kinks motif that's run throughout most of their work: life is mess and it's no wonder we're turning into a bunch of paranoid schizophrenics one step away from being with the people in grey; but just because the present is awful that doesn't mean the future has to be. There's a lot of heart in 'Phobia', much more so than on any of the band's 1980s work, which are all fab in their own way to greater or lesser extents but miss out on Phobia's little details of hope and warmth. It's an under-rated record this one, full of several great moments and one or two truly great songs to match old classics in 'Surviving' 'Still Searching' and 'Close To The Wire', a candidate for Dave's best song with the band (alongside 'Living On A Thin Line').
In fact Dave has a great album all round, with two of his better songs, constant harmonies and some typically smashing guitar work (in all meanings of the word) as if his brother has just realised with Mick Avory gone how much he relies on his brother for that distinctive Kinks sound. Ray was even heard remarking in interviews that he'd finally 'got' how to record his brother - that Dave's spontaneous nature meant he played his best parts on the first take, whereas perfectionist Ray of course re-recorded everything hundreds of times to get them right. It's a real tragedy that The Kinks end here, just when they've worked that out: had the band played every track live, then allowed Ray to tinker with the tracks while leaving Dave's guitar and voice intact as per here, it might have been a lot easier on the band's nerves (if not necessarily the listener's - we'll return to this point in a mo). That guitar sound in particular has rarely sounded so good: it's the backbone of this album in a way it hasn't been since the mid-1960s, with Dave's angry sparking fury the perfect complement to Ray's slyer, more layered delivery (the record even starts with a guitar instrumental as if to make sure Dave is being given the first word). Dave, for his part, seems to have relished this darker set of his brother's songs more than any for a while - there are less ballads, MOR pop songs and theatrical tracks and a lot more rockers far more to his own tastes (Dave's also always been a lot more comfortable when his brother shows his darker side - there's some sort of a statement to make there about brotherly love except I'm not quite sure what that means). The pair even come together, brilliantly on the lesser known 'Close To The Wire' (written by Dave for his brother to sing, although Ray only sings the first verse before handing it back over - some lovely harmonies from both are featured on the chorus though) and the 'better known' 'Hatred', a song that for the first time appears to address the burning feud between them (though, typically, Ray backtracked and claimed he'd written it for an unfinished musical about a two-headed transplant!; not sure if I ever bought that story to be honest - this is clearly about the brothers).
The differences between the Davies' personalities, both heard in extreme here, might also explain the one part of 'Phobia' that doesn't quite come off: the production. 'Phobia' is a curious album that somehow manages to be simultaneously a little too raw for comfort and as polished and over-slick as any of the band's 1980s records. In some ways this suits the material: 'Phobia' is an album full of hidden shadows and the sense of a 'great big nowhere' being held at bay by an increasingly fragile barrier so it makes sense that the 'real' world and the 'perfect' world in Ray's head both collide here at times. But it also means the songs are in danger of falling curiously flat, with the worst of both worlds at times (the band don't sound as if they're playing in the same room together - but they also sound like everyone has been taped on the first take oblivious of quality and mistakes). It's all just that bit too rushed and undercooked in the oven - with the best bits seemingly replaced by endless re-takes in a microwave that flattens everything out ('A fast food mentality?') Rockers like 'Babies' 'Phobia' and 'Wall Of Fire' (the last two of which sound so good 'live' for the BBC) sound as if there's something slightly holding them back of going all the way; similarly pretty Ray Davies ballads like 'Still Searching' and 'Only A Dream' are a little too polished to sound as truly gorgeous as they should (I still long for Ray to revive the former in concert in an unplugged format!) Compared to the comparatively bright shiny sound of 'UK Jive' it's a disgrace; for a record that took two years to make it's a disaster.
That might perhaps be why 'Phobia' isn't really regarded as being in the premier league division of Kinks albums and seems to have enjoyed a mixed reception with the few fans who've heard it. However I've always loved it and - unusually for any Kinks album from the second half of their career and any album pushed to extreme length - love pretty much all of it. Yes, even the two songs that nobody else likes: 'Babies' isn't as silly as people say but the logical extension of the paranoia that's plagued Ray for years and makes him wonder if everyone feels as anxious and scared as he does, even newborns (we know that Ray was a quiet infant who hardly ever cried so this sounds more like a heartfelt plea than the 'joke' everyone assumes); 'Somebody Stole My Car' is and is the sort of song I usually hate - a feeble hard-rocking song that name-checks automobile makes and other car songs, but with the great Ray Daviesian twist that his dream car has just been stolen. For other writers this would be a throwaway line in a larger song about crime and gang cultures (Ray's own future B-side 'Yours Truly, Confused, N10' for starters) but Ray takes it so personally that's he's still spitting feathers four minutes later with no signs of slowing down, the closest thing to a punk song for years taking the side of the 'adults' not the youths. Some people say that the album is the only Kinks album without any classics on it - that's closer to the truth for me, but I'd still rate 'Surviving' as being as close to brilliant as we have any right to expect from a band nearing their 30th year together. I love the darker side of Ray's personality that shines through this album and adds so many extra layers to this record some of the more recent Kinks albums don't possess, the extra time Dave gets in the spotlight and the fact that even when you've reached 'Over The Edge' (the 'natural' 40 minute break in the record) there's still so much quality material to go. Unfortunately the curious production and some of the sloppiest performances of any Kinks line-up go some way to distracting you from the greatness of 'Phobia', not to mention Ray's occasional reliance on one-note lyrics that end up more like lists than stories (the title track being perhaps the best example). I'm not sure I'm entirely swayed by the Davies' brothers belief that they'd just made their best album in decades ('UK Jive' is prettier and wittier) - but I'm more swayed by that idea than the one that dictates that 'Phobia' is not only the last Kinks album but the worst. There are one hell of a lot of great ideas on this album - not all of them make it onto paper, to the studio, or past the mixing desk, but all these songs have at least one thing that's great about them and the best of them have so much more than that. In a typical Kinks irony, 'Phobia' was so spot on for its time it didn't have a hope of selling; had the band lasted long enough for a 'Britpop' era album (in the days when Blur especially were scandalously ripping off - sorry, being deeply inspired by - The Kinks) their fortunes would surely have reversed dramatically, like so many of their peers' albums did. But then how very Kinks to have ended just a year short of their revival, going out on their own terms on an album that couldn't have been musically less like anything else around at the time - whilst politically and socially being more spot on than any other band.
The album opens with 'Opening' - which is logical I suppose. A thirty-eight second burst of overlapping guitar that features two Daves bouncing off each other, it sounds as if it's here simply to taste the tapes, but if so does seem to back an awful long way in the album's conception. It's a useful scene setter allowing the album to glide before it suddenly pounces, although it might perhaps have made more sense actually built into the opening track rather than as a standalone song. Dave had tried something similar with the two minute long 'Tapas', the aggressive burst of manic guitar that opens his most lyrical solo album 'Chosen People'.
'Wall Of Fire' is the first of the album's many crunching rock guitar attacks, not fast by any means but by Kinks standards very loud indeed. Dave's relentless guitar attack contrasts nicely with a Ray vocal caught between fragile and belligerent over a lyric that's as despondent about the fate of the modern world as 'Down All The Days' had so recently been hopeful. The closest thing to an ecological plea in the Ray Davies songbook, Ray typically skips the warning signs we all must heed and goes straight to Armageddon: 'Nature gave us all these toys to play with' he complains, 'but we've abused them, each and every one'. In a clever metaphor, Ray compares our dilemma as inhabitants on a ravaged planet Earth to a group of convicts who've lit the fuse on a bomb but have nowhere to run to take cover to, with the 'wall of fire' that destroys the Earth less a threat than a promise. In an eerie premonition of our current troubles, it's a charade caused by 'city slickers' who built their cities up higher than anybody's - and who fell first. There's a nod of a head to an earlier, more positive Ray Davies song about natural disaster, 'Lost and Found' ('Through the storms and hurricanes we rode'), but this disaster isn't natural but of our own making and it's up to us to sort it out. The single best band performance on the record gives the band a lot of space and Dave's guitar crunch sounds particularly strong, though the melody isn't as strong as either the riff or the lyric. Planned by the Davies brothers as the first single (See! Something they actually agreed on!'), Columbia didn't see the sales potential in telling The Kinks' potential fans they were all doomed to a nasty fiery death in the not too distant future and picked 'Hatred' instead. This was, I sense, a mistake - especially in the peak year of grunge when the songs that sold best all made a similar comment.
'Drift Away' is so Ray Davies the song practically comes with a gap-toothed grin. Similar in construction to 'Aggravation', the killer blows that kick-started 'UK Jive', it's a song of tranquillity and peace full of gorgeous harmonies that get blown away cruelly by the annoying irritants of the real world. Ray returns to his theme from his '80 Days' musical (already heard on 'Loony Balloon'), using it as a way of 'drifting away' to his special inner place (it's an 'island' which might be significant - is it the same one Ray escaped to back on 'The Kinks Kontroversy' in 1965?) 'Back in the real world' it's the end of the world: 'rivers of blood', 'apocalypse now' 'we'll all go to hell' 'It's a moral decline and I'm losing my mind' - this might well be Ray's ugliest set of lyrics in his career. Like 'Pressure' this is a song where things have also been exaggerated ('A little bad news helps circulation' he cynically recites about the world's media) but Ray is by now so het-up his island seems further away than ever. Chillingly the world's attention has also been subverted: the people save their biggest attacks not for the bankers or the politicians or the terrorists but to the hapless victim who broke down under all the pressure, 'left hanging by a rope'. Ray, an outsider to the end, rarely wrote about mob mentality but he gets it spot on in this song: never mind how to put things right, who do we choose as the scapegoat? Some may find this song too 'heavy' in both senses of the word and it's a shame that the distinction between the reality and fantasy worlds isn't quite as strong as it is on the opening (how much better would the 'drift away' chorus have been on a heavenly choir of 'oohs' and bongos?) However 'Drift Away' is a clever song done well, with a spot-on duel vocal from Ray getting both sides of the story across perfectly.
The gorgeous 'Still Searching' reportedly dates back to 'Misfits' before being revived at a late stage in the album after Ray realised he'd included so many dark songs on this album he needed a little bit of 'light'. Not that this is a light song by any means - it's one of several pieces about the wanderlust in Ray who just can't settle, whose always trying to leave the past behind in search of a better future who can never quite find it. In one of the best lyrics on the album Ray wonders 'until I find peace of mind, how can I find security?' The track is often said, not least by the author, to be sung in character by 'The Tramp', the strongest character from the 'Preservation' albums, but as all good fans know there's more than a little of the Tramp in Ray anyway. Like the title track of 'Misfits' (though not really the rest of the album particularly), this song has Ray a drifter whose 'lost his way', still convinced he's something special if only he can find a way of showing it - while half afraid that he's nobody important after all. Though the central song is fine enough, turning into an epic as Ray is joined by layer upon layer of Kinks, it's the middle eight that makes this song. Lesser writers would have realised the need to release this tension and give the tramp a career or a happier future, but realistic Ray instead finds solidarity with the fact he's not alone. The key change actually increases the tension as Ray screams that 'the world is full of restless souls, sleeping rough and living day to day' while sparing a thought for families who wonder 'why they went away'. Like 'Lonesome Train' to come (the highlight of Ray's solo career so far) this isn't just as passive observation, but an active query, Ray wondering out loud even after realising all the grief such a way of living causes that 'perhaps that's how I want to be'. It's a new 'She's Leaving Home' for the ages, the restless sixties spirit of never settling for less turned into a song that wonders whether Ray's peers are still finding it as hard to settle in the 'real' world as he is (which funnily enough makes a lot more sense in 1993 than it would in 1977 when the song was first written - is that why Ray decided to revive it now?) The song then ends, as only it can, back where it began with the narrator alone 'still searching for my dream', the sheer size and scale of the song apparently playing out only in his head. A gorgeous and most under-rated song is let down only by the performance and production which turn what should have been a hippie spiritual about going your own way and doing your own thing across an entire generation of baby boomers becomes another noisy plodding arena rock song. Thank goodness though for an expressive Ray Davies vocal that teeters on the edge between hope and doubt throughout and an equally expressive Dave Davies guitar solo that starts slow and gets more and more flamboyant with every twirl. Something of a wanderlust spirit himself, with several upheavals across his own life, Dave clearly 'gets' his brother's message and the pair have rarely sounded so close.
The title track 'Phobia' is cod heavy metal and sounds more like Black Sabbath than The Kinks, with Ray's vocal a tone higher than usual and a lyric that gives vent to every possible thing in life waiting to scare us and trip us up. Luckily it's superior cod heavy metal, which means that it sensibly puts a single snarling Dave Davies guitar part centre-stage and keeps throwing new ideas at the song, including a sudden prog rock bridge of criss-crossing guitars and a sudden kick into pure rock and roll on the second half of the song where Ray and Dave try their hardest to keep up with each other. The title song is clearly keyed into the album's theme of everybody having a darker side 'that they want to keep trapped inside', while Ray gets all Freudian and tries to work out why we're so scared of so many things that won't actually harm us and whether it's down to nature or nurture ('When you were small you may have seen the signs but you were too young to know!') Alas the song soon reverts back from analysis into a long list of ailments, which tends to be the Kink's weakest lyrical link when he's writing a song he doesn't necessarily feel a connection with (there's no sense that any of these phobias are Ray's own, for instance, but then again I'm not sure being afraid of your brother questioning you is really a phobia). I'm not so sure about the rhyme of 'explanation' and 'persuasion' either come to that. There are some nice eerie sound effects across the end of the song, with Ray going all 'Vincent Price' and the song reaches a nice peak at the end, with mass harmonies that come and go with Dave centre-stage once again. However this is a hard song for any band to get right, especially a band as unused to playing this sort of genre as The Kinks and the performance falls between the playfulness and darkness the song seems to be reaching for. This is probably the album's weakest track, but it's not too low a place to fall - at least The Kinks are trying something a little different here and the idea of everybody being secretly paranoid over something is such an obvious Ray Davies theme it's a surprise it hadn't actually been tried by him before.
Ray was apparently walking out of the Columbia executive offices ready to break when he wrote 'Only A Dream', following an interminable and awkward meeting where the record label seemed to be on an entirely different bookshelf to what Ray wanted, never mind a page. He was already beginning to think of his new partners as the 'enemy' when he stepped into a lift and was relieved after a day of frowns and sulking to meet a girl who recognised him and smiled. That was all Ray needed to bring on a happy mood - and a song. In 'Only A Dream', though, he's not famous at all but some lowly office worker whose spirits soar when he's recognised by his 'executive Goddess' (who in the song though sadly not real life even adds 'hey handsome, have a good day!'), his superior in so many more ways than just her job. Ray cleverly captures both the depressed state of the worker going about his ordinary day (sung in a sad growl somewhere towards the bottom of Ray's vocal range) and the heights his new passion has raised him to. The song keeps getting bigger and higher, raising through the keys with most verses to the point where it's almost a gospel track, with Ian Gibbons' last great Kinks contribution a soulful one-note keyboard pattern (he left before the end of the sessions after one last great Davies brother row late on and never got an album credit) surrounded by massed Kinks harmonies. Only Ray could still sound sad when singing 'I got positive emotions' and there's a hint that she isn't right for him anyway - 'she looked so corporate and clean' is usually an insult not a commendation from Ray's pen - but there's no doubting the joy and hope this chance meeting brings which is turned into one of the most wildly joyous riffs in the Kinks Kanon and even a brief Hey Jude style 'na na na' uplifting chorus. Of course, though, it all goes wrong in the last verse: having stalked the lady to work out when she'll be getting on the lift again, Ray's character gets on board too - and is ignored in a busy lift with too many other people to look at. Life's lesson promptly learnt: those magic small fleeting moments of life can never be recaptured - and if you try you'll get hurt, so make the most of them when they happen. Ray's closing line ('Life's just like that elevator, it brings you up but takes you down') is either the world's greatest punchline or the worst, I'm not quite sure, but his eye for character is superb across the song which has more than a touch of one of his favourite music hall comedians Max Miller in the way the song tells a sad story funnily.
'Don't', by contrast, takes a sad song and makes it better (it's this one that should have the Hey Jude na na nas). Recorded early in the sessions as the centrepiece and title track of the album, it was set to be a seven minute epic complete with an elongated 'do-o-o-o-o-o-o-on't look down' chorus. Instead it became one of the punchier, more streamlined songs on the album as Ray again tries to give this dark album some hope. A perfect description of The Kinks' short-term pessimism, long-term optimism, this track follows a yuppie who thinks he's lost everything and nobody cares or even knows him in a modern urban world where nobody seems to care. It's a sort of re-write of Simon and Garfunkel's 'Save The Life Of My Child' without all the comedy policeman. But this song isn't really his story (we never do find out why he wants to jump - just people's debates on why, perhaps mirroring their own reasons for feeling unhappy)- it's the crowds, who all stop shuffling down the road looking at their feet lost in their own worlds and come together to tell him not to jump, that things will get better that life is too precious to throw away, that people are there for each other. We never find out if the jumper is saved, but a miracle happens all the same. 'It was just another day' soars Ray at his happiest, 'But now people are talking instead of just walking away!' They say that Ray can find the sadness in anything, however happy - but here he also finds hope in the saddest of situations, however grim. Another clever arrangement (that sadly comes out rather lumpy on record) builds the songs by layers to the point where it really does sound like a crowd of people have come out together to celebrate. I'd love to hear the still-unreleased and unusually still-unbootlegged seven minute stripped down version sometime: this is one of many songs on the album that would have benefitted from being simpler. Often called the album's weakest spot, this simple song about averted death is actually one of the better ones to my ears. There's a great Dave Davies solo in the middle of all this mayhem too.
'Babies' is often quoted as proof of The Kinks losing it/overdoing it/being silly and had this song been done by any other band I'd have agreed. It is after all a song about a baby so paranoid about the outside world that he pleads with his mother not to give birth to him - to let him stay cocooned forever. However, in Ray's hands this is not a joke but the logical extension of a theme that's cropped up in several other of his songs. 'We never asked to be born' the baby sings sadly as he wonders if the outside world is as bad as it's sounded for the past nine months ('like a battleground') and whether it has place for a weak, scrawny weak-kneed scaredy-cat like him. Ray even harks back to a Kinks klassik as he worries already about joining the queue of people he sees 'standing in a line' (1970's 'Get Back In Line' if you hadn't guessed). Worrying about how he was conceived ('Was it love? Was I meant? Or was it just an accident?') gives Ray the ability to play around with bigger concepts that are far from child's play (it should be remembered too that both Ray and Dave were 'shock' births after their parents had both turned 40 and already had a family of six girls). The Kinks add a touch of drama to proceedings with the single best drumming of Bob Henrit's career, loud and angry, the musical equivalent of someone knocking on the door who won't go away (although in this case, of course, it's to let somebody inside out not somebody outside in!) A new version of the old 'You Really Got Me' riff used so many times comes in handy here too, adding urgency and tension to proceedings, while you sense if a paranoid neurotic newborn infant had the ability to play world class guitar the solo he would play would sound much like what Dave Davies plays here. Another oft-overlooked song, again slightly let down by a clumsy production that rumbles rather than pounces.
Having covered suicide, paranoia, birth, love and elevators there's only one place left to go: madness.
'Over The Edge' is a realisation that all the world is on the edge of madness and a pleading from one lover to another not to be pushed over the 'edge'. As usual Ray has the real target in his sights though, the pressure to conform and be like everyone else ('Joined the crowd just to be part of it - that was the start of it!') In truth the opening verses about life being like a Shakesperean stage and comparing life to being a circus act where everyone performs for everyone else are pretty boring and below Ray's usual standard, but the second half of the song is much more interesting. 'Civilisation's dead!' Ray sneers, before declaring that 'democracy's a shadow of its former glory!' like he's just joined CSNY! The final verse then points out what all this mad world happened to do to someone he knows well - his next door neighbour. I assumed when this album came out that Ray was using the term 'neighbour' for the more general term of 'it could be someone living next to you and you don't know!' shock, but the song 'Next Door Neighbour' from his much-delayed solo sequel to 'Phobia' (2005's superb 'Other People's Lives') suggests that the story may be true. An ex army man made redundant has flipped, become so paranoid that he sees enemies in his own edge and has an over-running brain that confuses the past and the present. Ray clearly knows how that feels, so it's something of a shame that it's made out to be something of a joke here, even if its a funny one (A surburban vigilante dressed up in a Union Jack!') As the stronger third verse shows, madness - like pressure - is contagious and an inevitable result of extended periods of living in a mad world. One of the weakest performances on the album (seriously, what's with that noisy clichéd drumming? To think I'd just praised you as well Bob Henrit...) makes what could have been a promising song sound somewhat sloppy too, with Ray's voice ironically enough pushed 'over the edge' of comfort at times too (to be fair, it sounds a hard song to sing - a cross between rap music and a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song; there are more similarities between the two than most music historians will admit by the way). One of the weaker end products, though there's a good song in there somewhere.
The album highlight for me though is 'Surviving', a six minute song that despite the extra length is probably simpler than anything else on the LP. Ray isn't living anymore, he's 'surviving' and beginning to have his periodic doubts as to whether any of this - his hard work, his band, his marriages - are worth fighting so hard for anymore. Reflecting his changing personality he sings 'Yesterday I was sure! But today I don't know anymore...' and admits to being 'afraid' of what life might have in store for him next, 'scared of emotional ties'. Ray hasn't sounded this weak and vulnerable since 'A Face In The Crowd' and it's a rare chance to peek behind his armour. A later verse tells us that he was picked up from rock bottom by a loved one who comforted him with the words 'don't be afraid - I wouldn't leave you for dead'. It's tempting to imagine this mysterious person being his brother, who looked after him in the wake of Ray's suicide attempt in 'Preservation' times twenty years earlier. Ray is a typical mix of grateful and prickly, wondering whether with all the things that have happened since it wouldn't have been kinder to 'kill me instead'. However, Ray's too strong to give up and somehow finds the strength to keep going, whatever life throws at him, ending the song 'a better man - that's my plan' with 'hope inside of me'. Another of Phobia's gorgeous middle eights is again the highlight, catching you by surprise as Ray again finds strengths from the idea that, though a loner doing things 'his' way, there are 'millions of people out there' like him, 'trying to get by in a world that don't care'. The song could have ended there and still been a modern Kinks klassik, but the revelation that 'surviving' is no mean feat in a difficult world inspires the most gorgeous of codas. Suddenly the nervous tension of the main part of the song finds release in a golden gospel glow. While the rest of the band go all Motown, over a lovely refrain that turns 'surviving' from a three-syllable word into a four-act play, Ray sings an inversion of his favourite chant from yesteryear 'The Banana Boat Song', the old sign in Kinks koncerts that it's all going to be ok because band and audience are united, at least for a short time ('Woah-oh-oh-oh-woiah-oh-oh-oh, Woah-oh-oh-oh-oho-oh'). However this is no daft tacked on happy ending as Ray then does a 'Lennon' and indulges in some primal screaming, turning the single word 'surviving' into a howl of rage, a scary scream, a bitter cry and eventually a hopeful balm that everything will still be alright. This is the sort of simple-yet-complex, dark-yet-hopeful sort of song that Ray was born to write and The Kinks were born to play (although again the composition is better than the execution of it here). The only really bad thing about this song, though, is how few fans know of it, one of the most moving and cathartic moments in the Kinks kanon.
Dave, of course, is far more confident that things are going to be 'alright', although 'It's Alright' is more of a sarcastic than a straightforward song. A noisy rocker closer in style to his noisy first two solo albums than anything he's written for The Kinks recently (except perhaps 'Rock and Roll Cities'), it's actually a more interesting song than first hearings suggest. Based around an angular, nervy riff that keeps looping back into catching its own tail just when you think it's reached a natural end, it's another tale of how mankind is being led to the slaughter like sheep by the nation's leaders. 'They want your mind and your body - but they don't understand or care much about it' snarls the opening lines, while Dave wonders what might happen if the bomb ever was dropped one day and most of the world was wiped out - would mankind learn that there was more to life than merely 'a society built on concrete and money'? Dave winds up yearning for life on mars, something anything bigger than us who can make mankind realise that there's more to life than the narrow vision he currently possesses. It's clearly another song inspired by his alien visitation in a hotel room in 1982, back when he was 'charged' with telling his fans 'the truth' about what was really going on in the world (it's a shame, then, that the same aliens didn't help to distribute a few extra sales of the 'Phobia' so fans had a fighting chance of actually finding the flipping thing!) Dave's keeping his options open though: he's more open than usual to the idea of there being a God out there to help sort things out too, as he turns to the 'Good Book' (though still in two minds about it all, 'where does it leave us? Were they right or were they wrong?') Just like Ray - and that's not a sentence used very often across this book - Dave realises that the only certain way out of this mess is to have 'trust' in people and 'hope - to carry on' in the belief that things will get better (I love the fact that these two songs appear together on this album - it's a rare display of Davies solidarity!) Oddly, the end result sounds both spiky and feisty, as usual for Dave, but also deeply over-polished, suggesting that someone (Ray?) stayed behind to tinker with this song a lot more than it needed. As the lone voice in the wilderness attacking pretty much an entire capitalist system, Dave needed to sound tiny and threadbare, not slightly top heavy and clumsy as here. Still, this is another strong song that also never seems to get the respect it deserves from fans, perhaps because even on one of the heaviest rock albums in their career it's the noisiest thing on the album by a country mile. Ray probably doesn't appear at all by the way, but was unusually quick to praise this song in promotional interviews at the time, perhaps because the lyrics (if not the music) so resembled his own style of writing.
'The Informer' is another great song let down by a lousy performance/production (I urge all of you to look out the period performance of this song both Kinks and solo, where it sounds much better). The song seems straightforward enough - two old friends who haven't seen each other for years after a 'betrayal' meet up one last time, discussing their old contradicting lifestyle of 'going to church on Sunday after getting right out of it on a Saturday night'. You'd imagine from that description that this is another Ray Davies song about his relationship with his brother - and maybe it is, in part ('Just two people having a beer, but on either side there is so much anger and so much fear...torn apart because of different pressure on different sides'). There's also perhaps the definite statement about the two brothers: 'I know that we'll quarrel and end up having a fight, just a couple of losers putting the world to rights' - but in two very different ways. However check out the many references to religion, the question asking whether the people around him ever 'felt pain' and the surprise at the meeting going ahead (though the narrator gambles, correctly as it turns out, that his friend is going to show 'as a matter of pride') not to mention the shock ending when he leads the other man away 'quietly without a fight'. Oh and the title is a bit of a clue too: the hint in the song, though Ray never makes it clear, is that these two former sides were on the separate sides of a war, 'on the run from law and order' and the man being locked up is a terrorist. Ray admitted later he had the IRA bomb attacks in mind when he wrote this song, perhaps as a result of moving to Cork in Ireland with his third wife Yvonne in the late 1980s. Note how the song ends though: 'Be a good friend' says the man arresting his former pal, once 'given away without so much a fight' 'and go quietly' - this is a relationship that dates back years, perhaps back to scuffles in the playground - or even in the same bedroom (there's no reason to think that this pair aren't brothers after all). Alas a clever, dense storytelling lyric packed with detail is slightly undone by the more average melody which simply drifts part without really adding much and only toys with the Irish Celtic feel, which could have been much more obviously done I think. A slightly tired sounding double-tracked Ray is also a take away from greatness too, which is unusual for him - especially across this album.
Talking of brothers, everyone has assumed that 'Hatred (A Duet') is about the brothers' anger towards each other too - not least because it's one of the few songs to feature both brothers crossing lines. The official line, though, has always been a bit more odd than this. Do we really buy that this is a song performed by the world's first double-headed transplant as Ray told us at the time? Do we buy, also, Dave's story that the brothers hatched up the idea together on what was meant to be their first joint song since 'Death Of A Clown' a full twenty-six years before, only for Ray to sneak off and write the whole song himself in private? Or that Dave was 'tricked' into singing this song, without having heard his brother's parts first (the song is deeply weighted in Ray's favour it has to be said). Many fans adore 'Hatred' as a long lost dream come true - the brothers going at it hammer and tongs and expressing everything they've wanted to say to each other for years. They're certainly having fun singing it, especially Dave ('And I hate YOU!' has never been sung with more venom!), but for me this song has never quite clicked. The plodding retro 50s beat waddles rather than rocks, while this song isn't quite as ridiculously OTT as it's trying so hard to be and thus doesn't sound like quite the fun and games we're lead to believe. Not for the first time, a jokey Kinks song leaves you far more anxious and concerned about the song's 'real' direction than a pure song of venom would have been (see 'Top Of The Pops' 'The MoneyGoRound' 'Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues'...actually almost everything the band did between 1970 and 1971). I'm also not buying the line that 'hatred is the only thing that lasts forever', which flies in the face of so many past Kinks lyrics about love and hope outlasting everything that it just 'feels' wrong, while not played in jest enough just to be a bit of fun. There are still some great lines though: Ray's point that he's a 'mild mannered person until you scratch the animal inside'. while accusing his brother of pushing all the buttons that bring out his darker side is a Klassik Kinks line. Similarly you can just imagine Dave giggling his head off as Ray declares 'I'll spill the beans on you - I've got the mouth to!' However as the culmination of thirty years of in-fighting (and that's just the years in the band...) the one great Davies brother knockabout feels like it should have been ain a heavier weight division than this.
Call me crazy, but I prefer the song almost nobody seems to like 'Somebody Stole My Car'. Only Ray Davies could take a random robbery to such a personal betrayal and this song does a much better job at finding the lines between tragedy and comedy. We've heard Ray complain about city life before - 'the cops don't care...and it's a jungle out there' he sighs again on behalf of city dwellers everywhere. However this time its personal: his car is his prized possession - he's just had it taxed, it had brand new speakers in the back, he's only just started paying off the loan (and the hint is he could never afford the insurance) and he's worked hard all his life for it and now it's gone, leaving him to 'call up the cops with a panic attack'. Ray isn't just offended that they've taken his car to sell - he fears that they're using it to party all night 'while I sit at home getting more uptight' - it's the injustice that infuriates him so. Meanwhile in the background you can just about hear the other Kinks, especially Dave, having a ball, singing snippets of The Beatles' 'Drive My Car' (beep beep beep yeah!'), the very sound of juvenile delinquency. However Ray is too good a writer to simply blame it all on the kids: instead he blames it on a culture of 'dog-eat-dog world mentality, where the dog eat the dogs and the innocent leave' where 'possessions mean nothing in a world like this' because everyone's after what you've got. The song builds to a great climax as Ray's snarled vocal just keeps coming in what must be the fastest paced verse in Kinks history with Ray getting his knickers more and more in a twist before breaking away to yell, 'Hey - that's my car!!!!!' Hilarious, while simultaneously leaving you feeling awful for someone who is a passive victim in all of this. Other bands write songs about the joy of driving cars. Only The Kinks write songs about the horror of having them stolen!
Another album highlight is Dave's gorgeous 'Close To The Wire'. One of the younger brother's finest songs, it tempers the aggression of 'It's Alright' with the sadness of 'Living On A Thin Line'. Ray sings the first verse - originally Dave wrote the whole song for him to sing, which might be why his vocal is on the shrill side when he gets going - a hopeful yin to Dave's worried yang for once, a 'hopeful adventurer' who senses how many opportunities there are in life which sadly never come true. A staggering second and third verse throw in all sorts of warnings about the future which staggeringly have all come true: 'The soul needs attention like a body needs to breathe, but banks need investment, so who are we?' Money really is the root of evil on this album and it's no longer merely taking but yelling, demanding that mankind gives up their humanity to serve it, even though the largest percentage of them never get to bask in the reward of making it. Dave is furious, unsure why anyone would possibly hurt another for a profit and on such a large scale, snarling 'your rhetoric's a quiz game and a mystery to me'. The bottom line: 'Cultures are dying, but at least the gold reserves are safe'. This is an urban metropolis a long way away from the Village Green, set up to preserve and protect out past, trampled out by unthinking capitalist aggressors. A painful middle eight suggests that Dave has even lost a loved one (maybe a generation, maybe even his brother?) to this way of thinking: 'What happened to the dreams we shared together? The taste of wine? A moonlit song that lasts forever?' Trapped in a jungle he never agreed to be a part of but which he 'can't escape', Dave can do nothing more than 'survive', adding his own passionate scream to the album's key word, as he warns us all how we're 'close to the wire, lost in the fire' of our own making. Together with one of the album's best performances (highlighted by a stinging Dave guitar solo offering relief that's cut off far too soon), 'Close To The Wire' is one last Kinks Klassik, both brothers coming together after thirty years on a song about unity and facing up to oppressors. *Sniff* excuse me, I think there's something in my eye...
'Scattered' is often said to be an album highlight and certainly the idea is sound and very Kinks. Written first in the early 1980s during the split with Chrissie Hynde when Ray was between marriages and realised his wardrobe was 'scattered' across the continents, the song started off as a 'joke' similar to 'Property' before being abandoned for a few years. Then two people close to Ray died - family friend Carol Bryans and the Davies' own mother Annie Florence, which took the song to a whole new place about 'scattering ashes' (one of the final nails in the Kinks koffin was Dave's disgust that Ray didn't appear at the funeral - Ray, though, has long made it clear how he much he detests funerals with all their false gossip and eulogising and will, most likely, not even turn up his own when the time comes). The theme then became the idea that none of our worldly concerns and worries matter at all because one day we'll be long gone, our worries all over (and in the context of the album, as death is the great leveller, the greedy businessmen and corporation leaders will find a certain form of justice in this defeat too). Many fans love this song, which matches the same bounce and uplift-after-a-hard-struggle as 'Days', but you can tell, I think, that this song was written in spurts rather than one go as it doesn't quite fit. There is, for instance, a middle eight about 'scattered clues' a wife leaves home after going out of his life in a hurry (almost certainly about first wife Rasa, though his split with Chrissie may have reminded him of this) that has nothing to do with the rest of the song and a curious verse about watching 'scattered stars up there in the sky' and wondering where his loved ones got to before pondering whether life is 'scattered through the universe'. It's not quite the big finale both this album and the Kinks kareer deserves somehow, a little too 'perfect' an ending for a band like the Kinks and a little too obviously written as a singalong celebration - without having given us anything really to celebrate. Still, out of context, this song isn't bad either, just another of the album's 'nearly greats' slightly let down by a curiously lifeless performance (then again 'Days' doesn't sound that great in execution either).
Overall, though, 'Phobia' is a terrific way to bow out. In the twenty years since buying this album and falling in love with it, I may feel older, I may feel fatter, I may have the blues coming on, but I have a newfound respect for the last few Kinks albums too. 'Phobia' is not a Kinks klassik the way so many of the band's 1960s and even 1970s LPs are, but it's a solid farewell packed with lots of long songs and it feels like a bigger 'meal' than a lot of the band's 1980s albums, even if many of them made for tastier morsels. There is, it has to be said, a major problem with the album's production and the performances aren't always as inspired as the songs, even if it is great to hear Dave so central to the band like the good ol' days. But don't be put off: any Kinks fan whose lasted long enough with both this band and these reviews must know by now that the real hidden gems in the Kinks Katalogue are the ones that lie buried beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered and loved anew by a small handful of people who 'get' why The Kinks are one of the greatest bands that ever were and ever will be. It makes sense that we should have to work that little bit harder than usual on the band's farewell message and 'Phobia' is an album full of jewels pretending to be ordinary stones that only need a bit of a polish (the same can be said for much of the band's post 1960s canon after all). Together with the album's polar opposite predecessor, the buoyant 'UK Jive', the band are not just surviving here but winning, contenders after all whatever the weaker sales or critical reviews suggested. As the band's poorest selling, rarest and final record many fans seem to have a 'phobia' about 'Phobia'. To quote the album's other title: 'Don't'. 'Phobia' may be a very loud and raucous album, full of darker and nastier songs than normal and in a typical bit of Kinks irony the most recent Kinks album may well be the one that's dated the most already (that's early 90s technology for you). However 'Phobia' is not just a great album, but a great Kinks album. And that is how bands should always celebrate their 30th anniversary (you know...give or take a bit), by giving us everything they usually do but in a slightly newer and fresher way. The Kinks, as always, got it right again - but on their own terms. Would we have them any other way?